View Full Version : Do you work holistically or top-to-bottom / left-to-right?

11-30-2019, 11:25 PM
Hi all,

I am comparatively new to pastel painting than many of you, but I am interested in hearing how others approach their work.

I have been doing pet portraits, and tend to build up my paintings in a series of layers. I commence a new painting by blocking in general values and colours, then progressively add more detail and adjustments with each subsequent layer. I have watched some tutorial videos by Jason Morgan on YouTube, and I have seen that he works in a similar fashion. This approach is holistic in the sense that it involves covering the entire paper in the initial layers, and building up many areas of the painting simultaneously in each layer.

By contrast, I have observed that many pastel artists on YouTube and Instagram work in a top-to-bottom, left-to-right fashion - they work on one area of a painting and complete the majority of that area, leaving the rest of the surface blank (except for the underdrawing), prior to moving on to the next area, usually starting at the top-left of the painting surface, progressively moving towards the bottom-right. Emma Colbert is an example of one artist who appears to be working this way. This seems to be more of a 'direct' painting approach, which involves less layering.

I can see that there are benefits to using the second method, as there is less risk of 'contaminating' other areas of the painting with excessive dust, particularly if working at an easel rather than on a flat surface. There is also less risk of smudging any part of the painting if using a finger or the side of one's hand to rest on part of the painting for support, which is often necessary to maintain a steady hand and achieve precise detail.

I would really like to work using the second method to reap these benefits, but my mind and eyes have great difficulty working in this way, as I feel that I need to see the entire painting as a whole in order to understand it and problem-solve any issues with composition, colour, or detailing, and to visualise where I want to go with it. I am also a bit lazy when it comes to drawing and doing compositional studies. I don't spend enough time planning my paintings, or on creating accurate underdrawings, so I find myself having to make changes to my composition and proportions frequently in the initial layers. I have no doubt that my paintings would improve substantially if I put more effort into the planning and drawing stages, but sometimes I am just itching to apply colour to the paper and tend to rush into it.

How do others work? Do you work from top-to-bottom, left-to-right to keep your surface clean and avoid smudging any part of the painting? Or do you work more holistically like me?

I am sure it comes down to the artist's personal preference, but I am really interested in hearing what others think about it!

12-01-2019, 10:04 AM
I work holistically (great word to describe it!) and have always done so no matter what medium (pastels, watercolor, oils, etc.). I can't even imagine doing it any other way - and for the exact reasons you mention:

... as I feel that I need to see the entire painting as a whole in order to understand it and problem-solve any issues with composition, colour, or detailing, and to visualise where I want to go with it.

Couldn't have said it better myself!


12-01-2019, 10:59 AM
I work the whole painting in any medium. I think I would lose may way doing a section at a time.

water girl
12-01-2019, 02:56 PM
I am pretty attention deficit, and I do try to work upper left, toward the bottom right, or with certain subjects, from the top, down to bottom. But then I'll get a little bored or distracted and jump to something out of order. I usually use a mohl stick (to support my hand) and go back at the end for a few touches of light or dark with the softest pastels.

12-05-2019, 03:01 PM
I try to work top down to help with traveling dust, but since I do a lot of layering, it doesn't always help; I usually end up with the holistic method as well...

My Beloved Muse
12-06-2019, 05:51 PM
I bounce between "holistic"and focusing on specific areas. Don't think I've ever worked top to bottom. That just wouldn't fly for me though it seems natural to others.